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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pain and Gain - B

Rated R, 129 minutes

Darkly entertaining, overlong "Pain and Gain" is the American Dream on steroids

The Rock, Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie
Some stories are so over-the-top it's hard to believe they're true. That's the approach taken by the entertaining "Pain and Gain," that's part true crime story and part dark comedy. Directed by Michael Bay, it has an overly familiar "Bad Boys" vibe that's much too drawn out, but nonetheless it's an engaging tale. Miami bodybuilders Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Delgado (Dewayne "The Rock" Johnson) decide to take the American dream to the next level when they kidnap a despicable millionaire (Tony Shaloub) and take everything he has. Known as the Sun Gym Gang, the trio have considerable brawn and little brains, they soon find their world crumbling when a smart detective (Ed Harris) starts tracking them. "Pain and Gain" is a well-acted, dark tale of crime and a satisfying character piece that's mostly played for laughs, much of it at the expense of these lame-brained criminals, who were eventually caught and imprisoned for their crimes. Based on a true story out of Florida in the 1990s, it's one of those your-not-gonna-believe-it-but-it's true kinda stories that filmmakers love to make, with little room to embellish. Though drawn out at about 20 minutes too long, Bay and company provide some funny along with some excruciatingly brutal moments (dismemberment among them) to keep the film moving along with some energy. All three leads, particularly The Rock, are believable, though it's the stellar supporting cast who (no pun intended) steal this show. "Monk's" Shaloub is particularly memorable as the vile rich guy they kidnap, as is comedian Rob Corddry and "Pitch Perfect's" Rebel Wilson, as the gym manager and the wife of one of the criminals, respectively. Ed Harris is also strong but underused as a likable real-life detective named Ed DuBois, who interestingly in real life has capitalized on his own fame (also a musician, he wrote and performs a song called "Pain and Gain - Retribution Song" on his website). With an overlong midsection that could've certainly been shaped up in the editing room, "Pain and Gain" is a fun, darkly shaded character piece speaking to the American Dream on steroids. Worth a look.

Wes's Grade: B

Mud - B

Rated PG-13, 131 minutes

"Mud" is a plodding but affecting coming-of-age story

Matthew McConaughey
"Mud" continues the creative reemergence of Matthew McConaughey in an overlong yet well-acted, sensitive contemporary coming-of-age story set in the South. McConaughey plays the title role, a fugitive living on an island in rural Arkansas, who befriends two young teenage boys Ellis and Neckbone (newcomers Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, respectively). The two boys are reluctant and unsure of Mud's travails yet are eventually drawn into a tale of love and crime as they try to reunite Mud with his soul mate Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) which help them learn about what is most important in life. Directed and written by Jeff Nichols (2011's underrated thriller "Take Shelter"), "Mud" is an emotionally satisfying story that is helped by Nichols sure direction and the steady performances of McConaughey and the boys. The sluggishness of the second act is problematic, and some themes are touched upon and never fully explored, particularly the relationship between McConaughey and Witherspoon's characters (and those expecting chemistry from the two will be disappointed, though they play romantic partners they're never onscreen together), but overall it's a masterful look at two boys who learn life's lessons the hard way. Sheridan, in only his second film, is particularly good, and Lofland, in his feature film debut, steals some scenes from McConaughey, in a remarkably low-key but moving turn that shows his growth as an actor. Nichols should also have a solid future in films if he continues on a steady course such as this. "Mud" is a well-acted, entertaining and often thoughtful coming-of-age film that's worth your time.

Wes's Grade: B

Arthur Newman - B-

Rated R, 97 minutes

Well-worn "Arthur Newman" proves that fresh starts are OK

Emily Blunt and Colin Firth
Sometimes a fresh start or a new identity is good for you, a theme championed by the familiar but pleasant new dramedy "Arthur Newman," about a man who reinvents himself in hopes to discover something new. Oscar-winner Colin Firth is Wallace Avery, a divorced, depressed and lonely man unable to connect with his young son (Sterling Beaumon), friends (Anne Heche) or just about anyone. He buys a new identity, a new car and heads off to Indiana to begin a new job as a golf pro. Things change when he runs into an unstable young woman named Michaela, or Mike (Emily Blunt), with issues of her own. As romance blossoms, they must let go and accept responsibility for who they really are. Part romantic comedy and part buddy road trip movie, the likable "Arthur Newman" is a well-worn tale of love and starting over, thinly plotted and underwritten but made better by the charming pairing of Firth (in a surprisingly low-key role following his Oscar win) and the effervescent Blunt. Directed by newcomer Dante Ariola and written by Becky Johnston ("Seven Years in Tibet"), it's also a bit baffling why Wallace would need a new identity when he can start a new life without it. After a saggy mid-section and a calculated finale, "Arthur Newman" works and you believe in the characters due to the charming pairing of Blunt and Firth, and for that reason it's worth a look.

Wes's Grade: B-

The Big Wedding - C

Rated R, 89 minutes

Thin but predictable "Wedding" blandly channels family dysfunction

Robert DeNiro and Katherine Heigl
If you enjoy seeing people cry, break up and wear lots of beige, pastels and floral prints, then the cute but flimy new all-star family dysfunction comedy "The Big Wedding" is for you. Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton have long been divorced but on good terms; Susan Sarandon is DeNiro's current love and Keaton's best friend (of course), while Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace and Ben Barnes are their children, trying to stay in perfect form for Barnes' wedding to Amanda Seyfried. Throw in Robin Williams as the priest who marries them and the whole sha-bang might go to hell. "The Big Wedding" is as bland as those beige clothes, directed and written by Justin Zackham, who wrote the equally maudlin "Bucket List," balances the schmaltz and humor, some of it well-timed, while the plot is woefully thin and some scenes go on too long. The pretty cast do their best though to help you make it through the big day, and many are indeed charming. Keaton and Heigl are remarkably less shrill, DeNiro suitably gruff, Grace and Barnes bland while the movie truly belongs to the radiant Sarandon, who much like she did in the recent Robert Redford thriller "The Company You Keep," is the most memorable (though underwritten) part of a mediocre ensemble. The pleasantly entertaining "The Big Wedding" does its job and it's not a terrible film, but it lacks purpose and could've been much better: see DeNiro's "Silver Linings Playbook" for good measure.

Wes's Grade: C

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Starbuck - B

Rated R, 108 minutes
In French with English subtitles

"Starbuck" a predictable but amusing portrait of parenting

Patrick Huard
Some people complain about the burden of parenting. Try having 533 children. That's the premise of the enjoyable new French Canadian comedy "Starbuck," a charmingly wacky yet calculated look at how parenthood can really, really change you. David Wosniak (Patrick Huard), a 42-year old lovable but perpetual screw up who finally decides to take control of his life. A habitual sperm donor in his youth, he discovers that he's the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are trying to force the fertility clinic to reveal the true identity of the prolific donor code-named Starbuck. "Starbuck" is the hit 2011 Canadian film directed and written by Ken Scott just now getting a wide release in the U.S. French Canadian actor Huard is a witty delight in the title role, as the screw up who realizes his worth as a parent and human being. Things get sticky, no pun intended, when his girlfriend Valerie (Julie LeBreton), becomes pregnant (yes, that would be 534 children). Based on the charms of Huard, it's easy to see how the film became such a big hit, given how thin and predictable the storyline is and when some of the main character's motivations, good or bad, aren't fully explained, particularly in the final act. The film is such a big hit that director Scott is remaking a U.S. version with Steven Spielberg and Vince Vaughn called "The Delivery Man," which will likely be as wacky as this. For now, you can go see the French Canadian version, the utterly pleasant and enjoyable "Starbuck."

Wes's Grade: B

The Company You Keep - C+

Rated R, 125 minutes

"The Company You Keep" is a tense yet miscast thriller 

Shia LeBeouf and Chris Cooper
Bart Simpson had a saying: "I never thought this was humanly possible, but this both sucks and blows." Though the tense new Robert Redford thriller "The Company You Keep" isn't by any means terrible, though its casting is its most impressive attribute and its biggest flaw. A tad too long yet peppered with some suspenseful moments, some of it works and other times it doesn't. A wanted man and former member of the revolutionary militant group the Weather Underground (Redford, starring and directing) goes on the run after a journalist (Shia LaBeouf) outs him in this political thriller based on Neil Gordon's 2003 novel of the same name. "The Company You Keep" is a serviceable spy-hide-in-plain-sight thriller, with solid footing and direction, but hampered by its miscasting. Redford's first mistake was casting himself in the title role and there's just no way around saying this: he's just too old for the role and it's particularly a stretch to believe he has a young child. And while it's nice seeing him paired with the still radiant Julie Christie, she is also too old, as is the usually gruff Nick Nolte, both playing former colleagues. The rest of the star-studded cast performs well; LeBeouf is solid, as is Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Chris Cooper and Terrence Howard (Cooper in particular would've been a better fit in Redford's role). Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Stephen Root, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Elliott round out the impressive cast, though it can be a tad distracting with a name actor popping up in every other role. "The Company You Keep" is a decent but flawed spy thriller and the Redford mystique may draw some in, but it's otherwise a disappointment for that reason.

Wes's Grade: C+

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Filly Brown - B-

Rated R, 101 minutes

"Filly Brown" is a familiar but gritty, well-acted tale

Gina Rodriguez
Regardless of the situation, it's always fulfilling to root for the underdog, and the routine but moving new drama "Filly Brown" has as much sass and heart as its title character. Majo Tonorio (TV actress Gina Rodriguez), a.k.a. "Filly Brown," is a raw, young Los Angeles hip-hop artist who spits rhymes from the heart. With an incarcerated mother (the late Jenni Rivera), and a father (Lou Diamond Phillips) struggling to provide for his daughters, a record contract could be the ticket out for her family. Co-directed by Michael D. Olmos and Youssef Delara and written by Delara, the film is essentially the Latino version of "8 Mile," with Latino TV actress (not the porn star) Rodriguez of "The Bold and The Beautiful" and "Army Wives" giving a heartfelt, breakout performance as the title character, a pretty Mexican girl whose rhymes are the result of the setbacks she's had. It's nice seeing Phillips and Edward James Olmos, whose son co-directed the film, together again in a mini 25 year "Stand and Deliver" reunion, though many may flock to the film to see the late singer Rivera in one of her last roles as Filly's drug addicted, incarcerated mother. It's a small but pivotal role and Rivera plays against type from her wholesome pop singer personality. However, it's Rodriguez, a non-musician who learned how to rap and sing for the role, who is the most memorable. On that note, the film is best when it focuses on the music, though there are a few rough scenes that poignantly detail the Latino experience. Independently produced, "Filly Brown," though overly familiar and too predictable in its final act, is a moving, entertaining underdog film with a nice breakout performance from its lead. Worth a look.

Wes's Grade: B-

Friday, April 19, 2013

To the Wonder - C+

Javier Bardem and Ben Affleck
Rated R, 112 minutes

Malick's "To the Wonder" lacks wonder and vision

Terrence Malick's new drama "To the Wonder" is a handsomely shot, well-acted often lyrical but unconventional and largely unsatisfying film about the nature of relationships. The movie tells the story of Marina ("Oblivion's" Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), who meet in France and move to Oklahoma to start a life together, where problems soon arise. While Marina makes the acquaintance of a priest and fellow exile (Javier Bardem), who is struggling with his vocation, Neil renews a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, Jane (Rachel McAdams). Malick's "To the Wonder" is a seemingly experimental film as he often gave his actors free reign to explore without the normal cinematic conventions of a script and lighting. The end result is a beautifully shot but uneven and unfocused, rambling film that lacks the effectiveness of some of his previous efforts. Shot in France and Oklahoma, Malick unsurprisingly makes nice use of the locals but his actors don't always live up to his vision; Kurylenko in particular is flat though stunningly beautiful; McAdams and Affleck make for a nice pairing but they're given little to do. Malick's unconventional methods don't always appeal to everyone (I'm not a huge fan), and this is a weaker effort than say "The Tree of Life" or "The Thin Red Line." Malick's fans will no doubt be pleased with the slow-moving and handsomely photographed "To the Wonder," but it could've been much more satisfying.

Wes's Grade: C+

Upstream Color - C

Unrated - 96 minutes

Sensitive but bizarre is sci-fi thriller "Upstream Color"

Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz
"Upstream Color" is the new low-budget science-fiction thriller that's bizarre, soft-spoken, often fascinating but too detached for it's own good. It's certainly a unique, ambitious effort from director, writer and co-star Shane Carruth, who directed the equally ambitious but more effective 2004 science-fiction drama "Primer" that dealt with time-travel. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world. Along the way, she finds another being (Carruth) who is equally consumed by the larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives. If it all sounds a little heady and ambiguous, it certainly is, and on that level "Upstream Color" may or may not be for everyone. Much of it, without dialogue, is fascinating, and other times banal and slow-moving. Like many science-fiction efforts, not all of it makes sense, either, but that may be Carruth's point, that life, as it intersects with others, has larger beings we don't fully grasp. "Upstream Color," overall while an ambitious effort that could be appreciated by many, I'm not one of them, and found it intriguing but unsatisfying. Worth a look if you really enjoy science-fiction, but may not be for the mainstream crowd.

Wes's Grade: C

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oblivion - B

Rated PG-13, 129 minutes

Sublime visuals biggest star of intense Cruise sci-fi thriller "Oblivion"

Tom Cruise
I will admit that Tom Cruise annoys me, but due to that (or maybe because of it), I found his new sci-fi thriller "Oblivion" to be vastly entertaining and a tense, taut if not overly familiar thriller filled with a nice set of impressive visuals. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, it should appeal to both Cruise fans and science-fiction lovers alike. A court martial sends a veteran soldier (Cruise) to a distant planet in the year 2077, where he is to destroy the remains of an alien race. The arrival of an unexpected traveler (Olga Kurylenko) causes him to question what he knows about the planet, his mission, and himself. Directed by Joseph Kosinski ("Tron: Legacy"), the real star of the enjoyable action thriller is the sublime visuals, namely the sphere-like drones which become the main focus of the story, adding a tense energy that fills the movie. Because drones have been in the news lately, they make for an interesting plot point that speaks to our current reliance on them. Though the story is mildly confusing and predictable, Kosinski's bleak yet fascinating portrait of the future pays tribute to other sci-fi films such as "Star Wars," "Logan's Run" with a little "Planet of the Apes" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" thrown in for good measure. Andrea Riseborough (seen recently in "Disconnect"), along with Oscar-winners Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo (essentially a female HAL named Sally with a southern accent) round out the A-list supporting cast. Former Bond girl and model Kurylenko's limited acting skills don't help much, but the impressive special effects, not to mention a couple of breathless action sequences (one in the first act involving the drones is especially tense) more than make up for her bland pairing with Cruise, in lower-key form than usual; the draggy mid-section picks up to an explosively baffling climax that may leave some scratching their heads. "Oblivion" is one of Cruise's more tolerable films, and may remind some that Cruise and sci-fi make for a decent pairing, given his last sci-fi outing, 2002's "Minority Report," is one of his best films. "Oblivion" has plenty of thrills and action and plays as a serviceable homage to past sci-fi films and on that level, I don't believe I'm saying this, I will recommend "Oblivion." You'll make it through just fine, so put aside any reservations you have with Cruise and enjoy this intense sci-fi thriller.

Wes's Grade: B

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scary Movie 5 - F

Rated PG-13, 80 minutes

Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan
Really? The real scare is that there's another "Scary Movie"

For what it's worth, there is some significance to the "Scary Movie" franchise, first started way back in 2000 by the Wayans to mock horror films such as "Scream" and "Friday the 13th." It spawned a series of like-minded, god-awful spoof movies like "Epic Movie," "Disaster Movie" and "Date Movie." Now there needs to be a movie to mock the mocker, a "Scary Scary Movie" of sorts. The first Wayans-produced "Scary Movie" had some raunch appeal, but when the Zuckers (of "Airplane" fame) took over, it watered it down to a thin series of woefully unfunny, star-stunt casting cameos spoofing the latest series of horror films. This installment (the first one in 7 years, as if we really needed another) everything from "Mama" and "Paranormal Actvity" are spoofed as well as other non-horror films like "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," Black Swan" and even "The Help" (a baffling, desperate move considering the premise), and featuring most of Hollywood's second and third string, including Ashley Tisdale, Bow Wow, Heather Locklear, Molly Shannon, Terry Crews and even Kate Walsh, not to mention the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen mocking themselves in the ridiculous prologue (a bad sign: Regina Hall, who's appeared in the previous four films, even stayed away from this one). A pitiful excuse for a movie, it's as horribly unfunny and a tremendous waste of time as you might think that's only watchable as to how they staged the gags themselves, not that they're actually funny. These films are generally box-office hits as many audiences find guilty pleasure in watching a comedy train wreck such as this. If this is your thing, go for it and see "Scary Movie 5," but you'll wish you hadn't. The biggest scare of them all? There could be a sixth one.

Wes's Grade: F

Room 237 - B-

Rated PG-13, 102 minutes

Intriguing "Room 237" appeals to die-hard fans of "The Shining"

Scene from the classic film "The Shining"
If you're a fan of the horror film "The Shining" then you'll get a lot out of "Room 237," a new documentary that examines the themes and elements of the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film that's now widely regarded as a classic. While much of it's certainly interesting, you really, really, really have to be a fan of the movie to get the most out of "Room 237," which often plays like a contemporary film class lecture. Directed by Rodney Ascher and with commentary from "Shining" enthusiasts Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan and Jay Weidner, the film spends its time unraveling the deeper elements and themes of the film, from the Holocaust, the Apollo space missions and the American Native Indians. While all those are intriguing (particularly the assertion that Kubrick assisted NASA in "faking" the Apollo Moon footage), not to mention all the things that a master filmmaker like Kubrick intentionally added to the film (and changing Stephen King's novel considerably in the film adaptation), the most intriguing aspect of the film is when the film is played forwards and backwards, at the same time, to see many of the more chilling parts of the film. It's the help of these "Shining" afficionados that helped make the film, which opened to mixed reviews at the time of its release in 1980, a classic. It helps that Ascher doesn't strictly use talking heads, but the addition of other Kubrick films or other archival film footage loses its effectiveness, not to mention "Room 237" goes on much too long for non-die-hard fans of the film (which is most of us). "Room 237" is often fascinating and entertaining, if not overlong examination of a film from an artist like Kubrick who needed to be engaged.

Wes's Grade: B-

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Trance - B-

James McAvoy
Rated R, 101 minutes

Stylish "Trance" a vapid but hypnotic thriller 

Part crime drama and part psychological thriller, "Trance" is a stylishly entertaining, often baffling film from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, of "Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours." Thin but visually enticing, it also has an attractive cast who performs well under Boyle's masterful hand. "Trance" stars James McAvoy ("Wanted") as a London art dealer named Simon, who is involved with a high-end crime gang led by the suave Franck (Vincent Cassel). When a heist goes horribly wrong, a blow to Simon's head makes him forget where he put an expensive piece of stolen art. Franck enlists the aid of Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist who will hopefully help Simon remember where he put it, but instead unravels dark mysteries that blur the line between what's real and what isn't. "Trance," directed by Boyle and co-written by sci-fi writer Joe Ahearne and frequent Boyle collaborator Joe Hodge, "Trance" does what the recent thriller "Stoker" does, and that is choose style over substance. "Trance" features an array of hypnotic, mesmerizing visuals that is Boyle's signature trademark, which make the film much more entertaining than the weak script, the film's chief flaw, suggests. The story is a bit of a mess, muddled and maddeningly confusing and jumpy, and if it weren't for Boyle's steady hand to add some colorful visuals, the film would be a near disaster. The film, to its credit, has an energetic pace and a high-flying climax that will leave you talking, not to mention Dawson's full frontal nudity and the roguish appeal of McAvoy and Cassel. The immensely stylish "Trance" isn't one of Boyle's better films, but his sublime visual flair will keep you engaged, even if the story doesn't leave you with much depth. Worth a look especially for Boyle fans.

Wes's Grade: B-

Disconnect - B-

Rated R, 115 minutes

Thought-provoking "Disconnect" explores the power of the internet
Jason Bateman

The last twenty years have seen significant changes in how we connect with others, given the rise and power of the internet over our lives. The thought-provoking new drama "Disconnect" delves into our online worlds of connectivity and the choices it provides. Intense and somewhat meandering in the middle act, it carries a certain relevancy to it and is a case where its premise is better than the actual film. With a "Crash"-esque mode of interconnecting stories, there is a teenager (Jonah Bobo) suffering the effects of cyber bullying; his parents (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) as they struggle with how it happened and who is responsible; a young couple (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton) who are the devastating victims of cyber crime; and a young reporter (Andrea Riseborough) who becomes too involved with the subject of one her stories (Max Theirot), who is involved in some illegial online activity. Directed by "Murderball's" Henry Alex Rubin, the well-acted, emotionally satisfying "Disconnect" finds its power in the choices that our online activity push us to make, both good and bad, and how easily we're drawn into it; it's a serious, often intense portrait of the effects it has on our society. A sluggish middle act and a meandering tone keep the narrative from hitting a home run, but "Disconnect's" relevancy is in its stories, even if it takes too long to unfold. The online chat and activity is understandably its central focus, and you quickly realize the plot unfolds under these chats and texts. Riseborough and Theirot's story is the most poignant, while it's nice to see Bateman in a strong, serious turn as an attorney who is disconnected from his family. "Disconnect" is a flawed film, Rubin could've tightened up a few places, but it's also a thoughtful and thought-provoking drama about our online activity. Worth a look.

Wes's Grade: B-

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

42 - B

Rated PG-13, 125 minutes

Overlong but entertaining "42" an inspiring story of a hero

Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman
"42" tells a story many know but thus far has largely been untold on the big screen. Entertaining and uplifting, it's not a straight bio pic but the story of the first year of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who broke ground by being the first black in major league baseball. Though too long and preachy, the likable "42" has immense appeal for non-sports fans too. It tells the story of the great Robinson (newcomer Chadwick Boseman) and legendary Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), who took a chance by signing the gifted Robinson to the Dodgers at a time when race was still an issue to some. As we know from many sports films, particularly baseball films, the sport is usually the backdrop for the larger story it teaches us about life, in this case about race and equality. The well-acted and satisfying "42" is directed and written by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Brian Helgeland of "L.A. Confidential" and "Mystic River" fame, who handles the material skillfully enough to keep it from being maudlin or overstylized, and with a stellar production that evokes the time period well. Boseman, who played another real-life sports figure Floyd Little in 2008's "The Express," is the standout here in a low-key, stalwart turn, resembling the real Robinson's facial and body features. Ford is also good, though on occasion too gruff and taking the focus away from Robinson, with all due respect to Rickey's contributions to Robinson's career. Character actors John C. McGinley, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, and Dallas' own Alan Tudyk also make memorable impressions as some real life figures in this story; Tudyk is particularly strong in a small role as racist Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, who almost gets the best of Robinson. The film isn't perfect: unsurprisingly, details were changed for cinematic license, it's a shade too long and is redundantly preachy (I'm also sure these folks didn't speak in the lofty platitudes they do here). Even with that, "42" is an above-average, decent entry in the sports movie genre as well as a genuinely moving, thoughtful historical piece on a true American hero. Definitely worth checking out.

Wes's Grade: B

The Place Beyond the Pines - C+

Ryan Gosling
Rated R, 140 minutes

Well-acted "Pines" a tediously ambitious affair

The new drama "The Place Beyond the Pines" is a well-acted yet overlong epic contemporary tale of family, grief and crime. Intriguing yet plodding and slow, it's about 30 minutes too long, not to mention the film's most fascinating character exits too early. Set in Schenectady, New York, the film follows Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a traveling motorcycle stuntman who arrives in town to find he has an infant son by an ex-lover named Romina (Eva Mendes). To help provide for his new family, he begins robbing banks, and he crosses paths with a local cop named AJ (Bradley Cooper), who has issues of his own. Tension builds over the years between the two families as they realize they'll forever be connected. "The Place Beyond the Pines" is an occasionally engrossing but tediously long, overly ambitious drama from director and writer Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine"), who masterfully directs but could've tightened up some saggy places and/or unnecessary segments from the well-acted drama. The film is clearly defined in three acts that spans over many years; the first act, featuring Gosling, is the best as it lays the groundwork for the story, but it gets weaker as it goes on, with a particularly draggy middle act. Gosling is fine and intense as the drifter motorcyclist trying to provide for his character, but surprisingly it's a supporting character; he makes an unfortunate exit from the film early on in the film and with it goes its most captivating character. Cooper, fresh off his success in "Silver Linings Playbook," is also believable in a strong turn, but his character is the more bland of the two. Dane DeHaan ("Chronicle") is also memorable as Luke's grown son yet like Gosling, he's underused by Cianfrance. There are too many unnecessary, small characters, unfortunate since many talented actors such as Mendes, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta, playing his usual slimeball cop role, are wasted in them; the section with Liotta in particular is largely unnecessary and does little to advance the film. Cianfrance is indeed a gifted director to watch in the future, but his "The Place Beyond the Pines" (the film's title comes from the meaning of Schenectady, which means 'place beyond the pines'), while superbly acted and often absorbing, is too long and tediously earnest.

Wes's Grade: C+

Friday, April 5, 2013

Evil Dead - C

Rated R, 91 minutes

"Evil Dead" remake conjures up humorless movie demons

The low-budget 1981 Sam Raimi classic horror film "The Evil Dead" gets the remake treatment with this new version, simply titled "Evil Dead." Unlike the original film, which was a campy horror film, this takes itself far too seriously though there are a few chillingly gory scenes. Five friends (Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blakemore) become held up in a remote cabin when they discover a deadly book that unwittingly awakens a dormant demonic presence living in the nearby woods. Soon after, the demons possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left intact to fight for survival. Whereas the original "Evil Dead" was more high camp, this version is far more serious and resembles more the typical, ultra-violent slasher films of today. Raimi, who co-produces along with original star Bruce Campbell (he cameos over the credits, the only worthy aspect of this film), hand chose newcomer Fede Alvarez to direct his feature debut; with a modest budget, the film is admittedly entertaining in some respects, with a handful of serviceable gross-out scares, but otherwise is just another slasher flick. Had this version left in the campy humor, it would've far better, given that's the main reason the first film worked so well (not to mention having Campbell, who's also sorely missed but too old now to play a central character). Of the relatively unknown bland cast, "Subugatory's" Levy and Taylor Pucci are the most memorable, but this would've worked much better with some comedy. All in all, "Evil Dead" is a notch above others in this genre given it's decent source material, but it lacks the humor and laughs and replaces it with an exceeding amount of gore and violence. If you like this sort of thing, have at it, but otherwise this is one to skip.

Wes's Grade: C

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Sapphires - B+

Rated PG-13, 99 minutes

Chris O'Dowd
Funny, engaging
"Sapphires" bristles with electricity

Inspired by a true story and based on the 2004 play of the same name, the musical dramedy "The Sapphires" is a familiar but heartwarming rags-to-riches tale with a great cast and even better music. Set in Australia in 1968, Aboriginals and musical talents Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Kay (Shari Sebbens) are discovered by Dave (O'Dowd), a good-humored talent scout with a kind heart, very little rhythm but a great knowledge of soul music. All are drawn closer together in unexpected ways as they discover their talents and the price of fame. "The Sapphires" shimmers with soul and fun and delivers one of the better films of 2013 so far. Based on a true story of co-writer Tony Briggs and directed by Australian actor Wayne Blair, the Australian production is well-acted, if not overly familiar; think of "The Commitments" mixed with "Good Morning, Vietnam" with a splash of "Dreamgirls." It's also well-acted by "Bridesmaids" O'Dowd in his first starring role along with Australian actress Mailman as the tough-talking leader of the group, who was also in the original stage production. The other girls, including Sebbens and Tapsell in their feature film debuts, and especially Australian pop singer Mauboy, also shine; you'll hear some energetic '60s R&B tunes, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honeybunch)" and a personal favorite, "I'll Take You There." Though the film touches on some relevant issues such as war and race, including images of the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, "The Sapphires" works best when it's focused on the musical numbers and the humorous moments, well-played by O'Dowd in a breakout role. You'll also want to stay over until the end to real the real-life inspirations for The Sapphires, with enough tissues handy just in case. Though "The Sapphires" (already a big hit in Australia) may appeal most to music-lovers, there's enough energy and soul to go around for most. Both the film and its soundtrack are worth checking out.

Wes's Grade: B+

Jurassic Park 3D - B+

Rated PG-13, 125 minutes
Dinos just as scary, thrilling in 3D "Jurassic Park" re-release

Sam Neill
Well, it's about time. It took long enough for Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "Jurassic Park" to finally be re-released in 3D, timed well for its 20th Anniversary and the announcement of the 4th edition of the now hit franchise series (Spielberg's not directing the 4th installment, if you want to know). "Jurassic Park" is a thrilling, tense ride, made all the more spectacular by the addition of decent 3D. In case you forgot, the film follows two dinosaur experts -- Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler Laura Dern) -- as they are invited by eccentric millionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to preview his new amusement park on an island off Costa Rica. On what is perhaps the scariest theme park ride ever, Spielberg takes you on an unforgettable journey in "Jurassic Park" and reminds you of some of its impressive sights. The film's clear strengths are the stellar visual effects, groundbreaking at the time, and its energetic pacing. The flimsy storytelling and dialogue, based on the late Michael Crichton's best-seller and also scripted by Crichton himself, are the film's chief flaws, but what it lacks in character is made up in the action scenes and the excellent, Oscar-winning visual effects, which still have held up well 20 years later, only enhanced by the serviceable 3D. Famed Academy Award-winning director Attenborough ("Gandhi") was always an interesting casting choice, but it works remarkably well (and for those curious, Attenborough is still alive and kicking at age 89 today), paired with the hammy Jeff Goldblum, who steals the best scenes and lines and makes me long to see him in more films. I also forgot that is was one of Samuel L. Jackson's first big roles, and he adds a sense of squirrelly fun to the tense film, which becomes scarier in its final chapters. You won't want to miss all the 3D thrills and chills of the vastly entertaining "Jurassic Park," which is definitely worth a look after all these years.

Wes's Grade: B+